Dangerous winds persist as wildfires roar in California

LOS ANGELES – The wind does not change for Southern California wildfires have not yet.

The fifth-largest blaze in state history, threatening thousands of homes as it churned through the coastal mountains to the middle of a sustained hazardous weather conditions.

Red Flag warnings for fire danger due to Santa Ana winds and a shortage of moisture were extended during the week, instead of descending Monday afternoon as was initially predicted.

“It doesn’t get much dryer than these people,” the National Weather Service tweeted, adding that more than 80 observation locations in the region reported afternoon relative humidity between 1 and 9 percent.

On Monday, ash fell like snow and heavy smoke were the residents gasping for air in the foothill towns in the vicinity of Santa Barbara, the latest flare-up after a week of wind-fueled forest fires in the region.

With acrid smoke thick in the air, even the residents not under evacuation orders were deserted, for fear of another shutdown of a key coastal highway that was closed intermittently last week.

Officials masks handed out to those who stayed behind in Montecito, an exclusive community of approximately 75 miles (120 km) northwest of Los Angeles, which is home to stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bridges and Drew Barrymore.

Actor Rob Lowe wore a mask as he live-streamed his family evacuate Sunday of their smoke-shrouded house.

“Pray for the people in my area,” he said to his Instagram followers. “I hope that everyone is getting out of the safe, as we are, and thank you for the prayers and thoughts. And good luck to the firefighters, we need you!”

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted that neighbors helped each other and their animals to get to safety.

“I am sending lots of love and gratitude to the firefighters and sheriffs. I thank you all,” she wrote.

The blaze, known as the Thomas fire destroyed 683 houses, the officials said. It was partly recorded after the burn 362 square miles (937 square kilometers) of dry brush and wood.

Customers come in Jeannine’s American Bakery in Montecito brushed ash from their clothes and marveled at the smoke so heavy that the visibility is only a few meters.

“There’s so much ash it’s incredible,” manager Richard Sanchez said. “Everything is white. The streets are covered, cars are covered, our parking lot is covered.”

Dr. Helene Gardner, an expert in air quality at the University of California, Santa Barbara, looked at ash to fall “like a fine snow” from her home after the school postponed the exam until January. She said that her environmental sciences students got a kick out of the fact that the delay is directly related to their field of study.

Gardner warned that the air warnings should be taken seriously, because of airborne particles — “nasty buggers” that can lodge in lungs and cause respiratory problems.

They said that the levels of particles from a forest fire can approach that in the vicinity of coal-burning plants in the pollution with heavy China and are especially problematic for people who consider themselves to questions.

“When I look out my window and see someone cycling, I think, ‘no, no, no, get of your bike and walk!'” she said.

Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region’s most disastrous forest fires. They blow from inland in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, accelerate as they squeeze through mountains and canyons.

The National Weather Service said that if the long-term forecast holds, there will be 13 consecutive days of dry offshore flow before it ends Friday afternoon. There are only 17 more stripes since 1948, including the report of 24 days set between December 1953 and January 1954.

High fire risk is expected to be in January.


John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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